red bike green first friday photo by ashara ekundayo
So I was downtown this past Friday for the Art Murmur, First Friday--me, some friends, and about 6,000 other people, I'd say. But what was so impressive to me wasn't only the quantity of happy faces flowing along Oakland streets--though it's great to see that-- It was the depth of community and connection I experienced.
My night started and ended on Broadway and 15th Street, around Oaklandish, Bittersweet, Betti Ono Gallery and The Awaken Cafe where the sidewalks were filled with vendors and food trucks, including FiveTen Burger and Liba's Falafel. As I hung out on the sidewalk, waiting for some friends from Sunnyvale to arrive for their first Oakland Art Murmur, at least ten people I knew walked past, including OL contributor Tehea Robie, marketing pro Kim Bardakian and Richmond Spoke's Brian Dayton (whose daughter was vending raw kale chips and other treats).
Inside the Awaken Cafe, it was City Hall ground zero: The City of Oakland's Samee Roberts, Harry Hamilton and Karen Boyd were all enjoying music, as energy advocate Misha Adron, blogger Jonathan Bair, blogger/entrepreneur Zennie Abraham and dozens of others ate, drank, and yes, danced.
Later in the night, Oakland's Mayor Jean Quan and First Spouse Floyd Huen came through, staying to chat with locals, listen to music and hang out (and if you've never seen Mayor Quan work a crowd, you've missed her mastery of this art form).
Down the way, bhangra, beer and art were happening at Betti Ono, with bouncers enforcing security at the door, while next door, sweet folk singers sang loudly for a youngish crowd at Bittersweet, where you could get hot chocolate with your walking blues.
At Feelmore 510, where Nenna Joiner and her crew were selling briskly, crowds came through, looking at everything from the sex toys to the vintage erotic magazines. (And I totally dug the moment when I ran into a well-known dot com acquaintance right there by the lube and we chatted about our mutual interest in Open Data and civic engagement before going back to our sets of friends.)
My most favorite spot, thought, where I hunkered down for quite a while, was outside the Fox Theater, where Grow Sessions producers Zakiya Harris, Ambessa Negus and ashara ekundayo had a solar-paneled sound truck and an amazingly cool line up of performers including Zakiya Harris, the punk funk mob, and the amazing Kev Choice, whose 4-song set blew away the crow.
Backed by Evan Veenstra,John Omayga Adams, Jackson Uriah, Duffy Hassan Hurd and trumpeter Geech Taylor, Choice played and sang a set of pieces that showed how his ability to play piano, write interesting music and tell the tale of Oakland just gets better over time. (At the moment when my friend G pulled out his phone and started filming Kev, I knew I'd made another "Oakland is amazing" convert.) As Choice played, the crowd rocked, dancing in place and nodding along. Again, the sense of community was strong, the special magic some moments in Oakland generate big-time.
Down the road in Old Oakland, folk were thronging the Umamai/Popuphood event, and back the other way, in Konogate, the classic car crews, the art deals, the food truck mavens and the crafters each did their thing.
--And no doubt, people were celebrating First Friday and doing their own version of Art Murmur in other part of the city, like Temescal/Telegraph Avenue and that little spot of San Pablo where Vessel, Actual Cafe, and some other cool businesses live.
But last night, I was there, downtown, right in the heart of Oakland, and damn, it was good. The diversity, the good will, the energy, the sense of security, the creativity, the friendliness--it made the night special.